Review: Manic Street Preachers- 'Resistance is Futile' (Columbia)
A melodious reminder that the Manics still matter.
Four years is the longest time fans of the Manic Street Preachers have had to wait for a new studio album, but this is justifiable in considering the toil involved in putting together 'Futurology' (2014), the bands most experimental album to date which Nicky Wire deemed to have sapped them of their 'creative juices' (NME, 2017) alongside the more stripped-back 'Rewind the Film' (2013). After the closest thing the band have had to a hiatus however, the Welsh band from Blackwood are back with 'Resistance is Futile', which offers stylistic reflections of songs from the albums that have passed.
A number of critics may have argued over the years, that contrary to those surrounding them, the Manic Street Preachers have survived the falls of glam, stadium rock and Britpop though there always been something more immaterial distinguishing them as an entity; one perhaps, in relation with their ethical principles and convictions. Despite Wire's insistence in claiming that he has no authority to address such things anymore (RadioX, 2017), 'Resistance is Futile' continues to portray the three-piece, as unwilling to lay down their defence of the downtrodden; with the title and celebratory tone outlining that real change may finally be set to come to the surface.
'Liverpool Revisited' in particular is a spirited and positively defiant number that would work perfectly over the top of a photo-collage commemorating the 96 who fell victim at Hillsborough; finally acquiring justice after decades of their families fighting on their behalf. 'People Give In', which starts with a somewhat dissonant guitar arpeggio and a confident in-the-pocket rhythm, carries on this ethic of hope whilst also recapturing a sound reminiscent of 'Everything Must Go' with lead vocalist James Dean Bradfield voicing 'people break down, people move on, people get cold, people stay strong' as if he were at Speakers Corner itself. This sense of familiarity continues with 'International Blue'. The album's lead single, shares some of the anthemic hubris with 'Design for Life' whilst also carrying the ironic glam cladding which was to first thing to award them their spot in an admittedly chaotic field.
Yet the comfort also comes with mundanity at times: the ubiquity of the digitally enhanced glam-rock snare, despite not being as poignant as 'Generation Terrorists' (1992), becomes tiring along with the somewhat inoffensive production to put it in negative direct contrast to its more varied predecessor. This is arguably most evident in the otherwise incessantly catchy run-in of 'Sequel of Forgotten Wars', 'Hold Me Like A Heaven' and 'Eternity' which otherwise possess all the dogmatic convictions of the Britpop era itself. The Manics instead sound slightly too comfortable in fourth gear, which is not bad, but some dynamic or atmospheric variation would have allowed them to strike a higher chord. This comes as particularly surprising when considering the approach to this project, which was to unpack it with the view to present a reflective picture of loss and history (DrownedInSound, 2017) through an articulated theme rather than through twelve stand-alone singles. Being that this is not a concept album it comes closer to the latter, but the moody 'The Left Behind', which could feasibly be concerned about anything from frustration of the white working-class to disenchanted millennials (who find themselves prepared for a society that does not exist), provides some of this much-needed variety; with 'waiting for the end of time, waiting to be left behind, waiting like a passer by' perhaps to symbolise the importance of collectivism, through hard times arising when communities are left isolated to fend for themselves.
It is hardly surprising that the presence of Richey Edwards continues to rub off on the band's creative output: it is the shameless continuation of fuelling the fight for authentic progressivism in the music that arguably continues to make them matter to the extent that they do. What showcases this best, is arguably that in the heights of their most potent success in the Britpop-era, they have consistently remained quintessentially anti-Britpop aesthetically speaking. They were never subscribed to the excessively materialist culture that it advocated (and in many cases profited from), as many continue to do so today by blindly hiding behind the concept of 'irony'. Instead, they continue to forge an authentic resistance against it. 'Resistance is Futile' may well be a sign that their extensive portfolio is exhausting them, yet they still continue to make the case that the contribution they make still matters.